Irishman among hostages taken by militants in Algeria

 

An Irish national is among a number of foreign workers kidnapped by Islamic militants in Algeria.

It is understood the 36-year-old married man, from Co Antrim, is among a group of 41 workers taken captive during a raid on a gas field in southern Algeria.

The militants entered the In Amenas facility, located close to the border with Libya, in a dawn raid, kidnapping the foreigner workers and killing two others.

There are unconfirmed reports that the deceased men are French and British nationals.

Algeria has this evening ruled out negotiating with the militants over the fate of the hostages.

"The Algerian authorities will not respond to the demands of the terrorists and will not negotiate," interior minister Daho Ould Kablia was quoted as saying by official news agency APS.

An al-Qaeda affiliated group said this evening it had carried out the raid on the facility, adding it had taken 41 workers hostage, contradicting earlier reports that nine workers had been kidnapped.

The group, reported to be from neighbouring Mali, said the attack had been carried out in retaliation for France's military intervention in the country.

American, British, Japanese, Norwegian and French nationals are understood to be among the hostages.

BP, which jointly operates the desert site, confirmed it was “attacked and occupied by a group of unidentified armed people,” and some of its personnel are believed to be “held by the occupiers.”

The gas field is operated by a joint venture including BP, Norwegian oil firm Statoil and Algerian state company Sonatrach.

An Algerian security official said earlier the attack occurred at 2am this morning.

In addition to the two foreigners killed six others were wounded in the attack, including two foreigners, two police officers and two security agents, Algeria’s state news agency said.

Algerian forces have surrounded the kidnappers and negotiations for the release of the hostages are continuing.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore has called for the immediate release of the Irishman.

“The Government stands ready to use all the resources available to us to ensure that our citizen is released as soon as possible,” he said, adding that “I would ask that the family be allowed privacy at this difficult time.”

The consular assistance unit in the department is providing consular assistance to the family and are in close contact with its international partners and a wide range of other contacts in order to establish the facts of the situation, the department said.

A group called the Katibat Moulathamine, or the Masked Brigade, called a Mauritanian news outlet to say one of its subsidiaries had carried out the operation on the In Amenas gas field, taking 41 hostages from nine or 10 different nationalities.

The group’s claim could not be verified. Typically there would be fewer than 20 foreign staff on site, along with hundreds of Algerian employees.

The caller to the Nouakchott Information Agency, which often carries announcements from extremist groups, did not give any further details, except to say that the kidnapping was carried out by “Those Who Signed in Blood,” a group created to attack the countries participating in the ongoing offensive against Islamist groups in Mali.

He said the operation was to punish Algeria for allowing French jets attacking rebel groups in Mali to use its airspace.

French president Francois Hollande launched the surprise operation in its former West African colony on Friday, with hopes of stopping al-Qaeda-linked and other Islamist extremists he believes pose a danger to the world.

British prime minister David Cameron chaired a 45-minute meeting of Whitehall’s Cobra emergency committee today, at which ministers were updated on the developing situation.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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